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Silverball Magic Exclusive:



Date of Writing: 23rd July 2005, Revised: 23rd September 2005

It all began with that dream: I was in a small American town and I didn't even know why I was there, but it was alright (dreams can be so careless). I was riding around to find the address of Stephanie Rogers because I knew she lived in this town and I also knew exactly where, I only had to find my way there. When I arrived, I wanted to ring the bell but had some trouble with my glasses, so I had to do that first - and while I was busy, Stephanie walked by and headed for the door when she turned around and looked at me like, "do we know each other?" She then recognized who I was and I asked her to wait so I could come in with her. It was the first time I "met" Stephanie personally, but it was not real - not yet.

Summary

The Machine, Stephanie's prime acting job for WilliamsIf you have followed my website for a while, you noticed that I have a relatively regular correspondence with Stephanie Rogers. This began after she discovered my site, reading the article about The Machine, after which she wrote an e-mail to me. I had contacted her months before, but her response never found its way into my mailbox and so I was left to wonder until April 2005 when she made "first contact" with me. Ever since, we have been writing each other occasionally and quite a few bits of information you find on this site came directly from her.

"Who was Stephanie Rogers again?" you might ask. Well, she used to do voice acting jobs for Williams/Bally in the late 80s and early 90s, most notably singing the chorus on Black Knight 2000 and playing the female robot in The Machine as her only lead voice role in pinball. As I summarized in the Machine article, she has a lot of acting and theater experience, and nowadays she writes and records songs independently. Her website is www.hipchick.com. It was the pinball connection as well as her music that got me so interested in her and I'm glad we have established such a good relationship of communication over the Internet. And by the way, if it had not been for the Pinball Network forum, I never would have known her name!

A Big Coincidence

After I woke from that dream, I wrote an e-mail to Stephanie telling her about this fantasy and commenting that I'd really like to meet her in person whenever the chance was present. There was no reply for two days, but then...

"I will be in Germany on Thursday, but I will most likely be in Frankfurt, seeing a friend who lives there. Then I will be in Switzerland for a few days, then back home. I'd like to meet you too!"

Frankfurt? On Thursday? I received this mail on Tuesday, so it were only two days and she would be in the country! Now the irony was that Frankfurt really is not all that close to Berlin, so while Stephanie would be in Germany, she would be too far away to meet... or not? After thinking about my empty timetable, my charged bank account and the fact that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I answered that I would come down to Frankfurt on Thursday if she agreed, but I was very unsure about it since she wanted to see a friend and I didn't know how much time she had. And as I expected, there wasn't a reply for another day, "probably because she has already left home", I thought.

Then, when I got up on Thursday noon (I'm a nightowl and I have to compensate for that), I found this little bit in my box:

"this is late notice, but i will definitely be in frankfurt tonight, although that is pretty far for you! i will be having drinks with friends around 9 or 10pm. my cell number is: ************, in case you want to make the trip!"

Holy. Now I had to hurry if I still wanted to get there in time. But first I had to calm down and clear some things - how much would the ticket cost, how long would it take me to get there, and did this cell number work? Once I had figured all these things out, I called her and spoke to her for the first time. She said that they would wait for me to come, and so I started preparing for a 24-hour day. I knew that getting there would cost quite a bit of money, but I also knew that it would be worth the trouble, so I left home at about 16:00.

roughly 1500 kilometers there and backLet's Make a Trip...

At 16:30 I encountered a long line at the station and I started getting doubts about being there in time. Then everything moved a little faster than I expected and I had my ticket one hour before the train left, so I was free to roam around. Thankfully this train was going straight through from Berlin to Frankfurt, meaning it wouldn't take the usual four or five hours but only three and a half. During the waiting time I tried to call Stephanie again to inform her of my arrival time, but she didn't answer, so I began sending her text messages. Once I was on the train and out of Berlin, my cell provider's network collapsed in the dry landscape and I was unable to receive any calls or messages from her, but once I was in reach of the network again (when approaching another city), I found a voice message from Steph on my mailbox telling me that she had received the text message and that she would call me in another hour. Since that didn't work out again, the second voice message sounded more like, "we have found our hotel in Frankfurt, but we don't know yet where we'll go, so call me once you arrive."
So I called her when I arrived and I had to figure out what she was trying to tell me because the audio quality was so low, plus she spoke German street names with an accent I had to analyze first. After comprehending the subway traffic system, I went a few stops and found myself in a section of the city which didn't look like downtown at all. I was very surprised to see dark little streets with old buildings since Berlin is a little more open and Frankfurt's inner city is so modern. But once I ended up in front of a door reading "Villa Orange", I knew this was the place.

Meeting Steph at Hotel Villa Orange

I walked in and asked the receptionist for a woman named Stephanie Rogers, but he looked back at me as if he wanted to ask, "what do you want?" Confused for a moment, I heard my name being called from behind me and when I turned around, I saw an American woman and a man sitting on the couch. They told me they were friends of Stephanie's and that she was upstairs taking her child to bed, so they offered me a seat and we waited. During that time we introduced each other and I found out that she was living and working in Frankfurt, but she didn't speak much German, while her friend was from Czech and spoke very good English (but no German either). They also wanted to know how I came to know Stephanie...
But that was the moment when she appeared. She walked into the room and saw me sitting there, asked whether I was who she thought I was, and then greeted me with a little hug. First thing I noticed: she looked very different from what I had seen, but it's like this with every star on TV versus reality, isn't it? She looked younger, her hair was longer and generally this moment kind of took the magic out of the air. From this point on, Stephanie was no longer the person I only saw on photos, she was no longer a distant idol or my own little star; she was standing there looking at and talking to me like any other person. Of course she is like any other person (she keeps repea-ting that if you compliment her too much) and she isn't much of a star, but since this wasn't only about music but also pinball, her name does have significance to people like me. And this moment, just like the rest of the evening, made me aware that Stephanie is now more of a friend who I admire for her efforts and her talents rather than the icon you try to reach out for and you almost die from excitement when you touch it (like meeting Nickelback in 2003, now that was something).

When we sat down to wait for another friend who would join us shortly, Stephanie told us how surprised she was that I went through all this trouble to meet her and she commented that "no other man" ever travelled this far just to see her for a night. She also said that I looked older than I really was (thanks, Steph! </irony> ;-) And while we talked about the way Steph and I met and about my pinball obsession, she said that she gets an e-mail every three to six months from a pinball fan asking whether she was on this or that pinball machine. So I'm not the only one after all? Then why am I the only one who travelled that far? XD

When Stephanie's other friend arrived, another American woman living in Frankfurt and speaking German very well, it was already 23:00 and we didn't have that much time left to spend, so we went straight out and walked to a location called the Nordbar (any Frankfurter who reads this now knows that this bar has been visited by a famous woman ;-) and on our way there Stephanie kept repeating how strange it was for her to walk through the backstreets of Frankfurt in the middle of a summer night not knowing what we were headed for. I could only share that feeling...

At the Bar

Once we arrived, we sat down and stayed for two hours. During that time we talked about a lot of things, but some of the time I only listened because the three women had some things to chat about. I was surprised to hear a lot of music stuff being their topic of con-versation and I realized that these three girls obviously had a backstory in their music business, which made this meeting even more interesting. As Steph later told me, she knows the latter woman (help me, I forgot all these names) just as occasionally as she knows me, because they were in the same spot at the same time, in a music workshop in the States.

Stephanie RogersOnce the conversation turned to me, we began to talk about pinball games because I had to explain the full story of how I met Steph. They seemed to be rather fascinated by the fact that our ways crossed purely by coincidence in April when Stephanie saw my website because of clicks she got on her site linked from mine (thanks for clicking, anyone). It was also a little difficult to explain why I'm so fascinated by pinball and how I came to listen to Stepha-nie's music from there. Steph explained that she must have been on a dozen pinball games and added that most of them wouldn't be recognizable featu-ring her voice because of the poor sound quality. It's sad that she doesn't know the names of these games because one name that she did mention in an earlier e-mail was Johnny Mnemonic and I know she isn't on that one. It was also very interesting to hear that Stephanie was never hired by Williams for voice acting; she was merely asked by the members of her former band Fish of Destiny because those members were such "irrelevant" ;-) guys as Dan Forden and Rich Karstens (audio designers for a lot of Williams games). I knew this bit before, but I didn't know that Stephanie worked for Williams only to do them a favour! She said that she was usually paid between 50 and 100 dollars, but sometimes it was even done for free. Conside-ring that she had her prime voice acting role with The Machine, I hope that she received a little more than that!
And while we were on the subject, of course I was also asked to describe the incorporation of her voice into the pinball machine I had at home; Stephanie could hardly remember the lines she recorded for it. When I began reciting sentences and talking about laughs and moans (which definitely are a part of The Machine's playing experience), her friends couldn't hold themselves from laughing. And to top that off, Stephanie asked whether she should sing the lines from the Black Knight 2000 chorus which was probably the greatest moment of the night! Hearing this voice sing these old cheap lines you can barely recognize in the game was an experience I'll never forget; it was gold. They must have noticed my affection because they commented that this had to be an exciting moment for me, which it was.

Except for pinball and music, I also heard a lot of conversation about ex-boyfriends and weblogs. One of Steph's friends didn't know what a blog was until that night and she brought up the topic again and again, for example when I described my website which is not a blog, and she had trouble understanding the purpose of those things. I don't read blogs either except when they are of close friends who can't be nearby for a reason, because why would I read a diary of some guy on the Internet I haven't even heard of?

The Interview

When it turned 0:30 and Friday had started, they asked me how I would get home. I told them that I wanted to catch the next train back to Berlin and I was well aware that this wouldn't be until 5:00, but I didn't want to stay at a hotel. I had planned to stay at the station and wait for the train, but Stephanie started to worry a bit because she couldn't believe I wanted to put myself in even more trouble after all this, and on the other hand she had to get going because all of them had something to do the next day (Stephanie would move on to Switzerland with her family). Because I had written down some questions on the train I wanted to ask her, she agreed with the others to stay another half hour while we would talk about some of the things I really wanted to hear from her personally. Because I didn't write down any of the answers Steph gave me to my questions, I can only tell you this...

Are you working on a third album?
The short answer was "yes". That's great news!

What kind of music do you listen to?
She said she listens to a lot of black music, R&B (not the current stuff that's just mislabeled R&B), soul, jazz, and some of this influence can be found in her own music because she puts some soul-like voice into her singing, whereas the music is quite poppy (but has some funk-inspired grooves as well).

Don't you want to climb up with your music and become more famous?
Stephanie earlier told me that she lived her life by choice and that she was fine being a normal wife and mother while entertaining people with her music in a free and independent form. Now she added that she prefers to stay the person she is and that she couldn't imagine a high society life as she only wants to be a woman, not a popstar.

Have you been to Germany before?
She told me that she didn't really plan to come to Germany and this short visit to Frankfurt was only done because of her friends; she was actually touring Europe with her family on vacation. She was in Germany once, surprisingly it was Berlin!

Because time was quite short and we also talked about some personal stuff, some of the other questions couldn't be answered live, but I told her I would e-mail those to her and she responded a few days later with these answers:

Do you produce songs with hooks as potential hits, like many major artists write their songs to try and make them a success by including memorable patterns? I found such hooks in "This Time" and also "In The Light", and "Weight Of The World" (one of my big favs) is very memorable too. Is there anything you wrote on purpose to make these songs easy on the ears and the mind, or was that a coincidence?
"I was listening to a lot of Sheryl Crow's last record at the time of recording 'Your New Life', so I was definitely influenced by the hook thing. I didn't really do it on purpose. I definitely don't want to be thinking, 'oh, I need a hook here' on each song, because that would lessen my approach to the message of the music. Sometimes, though, you may hear an instrument driving the 'hook', in a repeated riff. Like on 'Inciting Boys.'"

What is it like to stand on a stage and sing to your own fans? Is it a different feeling to know that people enjoy your music as opposed to you enjoying the music of other artists? I would assume it is a different experience when you turn to be the provider of content and people admire you for that, when you were a fan of others before.
"I love watching people enjoy my songs; I sing to them and I also feel I am a channel for their expression. Music is communal and can only be a stirring, interesting thing when it is shared. However performing is also my job, you know? There's a large part of playing music that is technical and analytical, that helps feed into the magic of a performance. Amazing moments do come when you perform and some gigs are filled with them, but there has to be much technique in place first. Sometimes I watch other artists as a 'fan' but mostly I watch as a fellow artist."

Do you record any songs live in the studio with the band?
"I haven't done that yet, but maybe on my next record. We did many songs on 'Not To Keep' with the rhythm section recording together, but mostly we do over-dubs, mainly due to scheduling. I am also very often writing as I'm recording, so the songs aren't fully arranged until we get to the studio. It would be more pre-production work to record live, but we are definitely best live."

Do you feel that your music opens a different way of expression for you, because what you sing is emotionally different from what you talk about?
"Yes. Songs are the emotions you cannot express or overcome in regular life. I work subconsciously when I first open the book to write. My first impulses for songs come without much mental intervention. It is in the editing process that I sometimes think: 'Wow, I am tackling a big subject here.' There are repeated themes in any artist's music and I think these are the themes with which we are per-sonally grappling. Also, it is an art - formed and re-formed - and usual conversations don't allow much for rewrites or poetic gilding."

Goodbyes

When we walked out of the bar, Stephanie thanked me for coming the long way to meet her and she said that she enjoyed it very much. I can only equally thank her because it was an extraordinary experience. I was afraid a lot of times that it might not work out, but as she told me, it did work out in the end and everything's fine. Stephanie really has that mother tone sometimes, she reassures you that every-thing is alright.

We walked back a few steps until we stopped at a tram station and Steph's friends tried to explain how I could get back to the central station at this time of night. Stephanie was still a little unsure about this, but she was told that Germans have a way of finding where they want to go if you just give them the vital information. That was an interesting comment because I find myself studying maps and working out routes more and more often if I want to get somewhere.
So then came the big moment of saying goodbye. I was entirely satisfied with this night even if it wasn't too long; I had spent the time, power and money on the right thing. During these three hours in which I met the person behind the music, I realized how much this means to me. Before that night, the central stationStephanie Rogers was a name and a good personality attached to it when we communicated over the Internet, but tonight she became a friend, someone I'm feeling closer to now than I did before, and when I wanted to say my final words to her, I just told her that I'd like to thank her so much more and tell her time and time again how much I admire her. Again this was a moment where I saw that she didn't really know how to handle that; I'm probably the biggest Stephanie Rogers fan in the world seeing how often she tried to relativize her status when I told her how great she is. And while this night brought Stephanie's character closer to me so that I no longer see her as much of a pinball or music star, it doesn't change the fact that she is an amazing person and I'll always be impressed by what she's doing. Whenever I listen to her songs, I find so many things I'd like to explore further by asking her, "how did you do that?" and "how did you come up with this?" Like with every good singer and musician, another side of her personality comes out when you hear her sing because she puts creativity and emotions into her music that you don't see when you talk to her. But talking to her was the other side of her character I never met before, and this was a very good experience.

When I walked through the city, watching people and waiting for trams and buses (only to take a cab in the end to get to the central station), I reflected upon the past hours and I noticed that I really missed this person for a while on my way back to Berlin. That's a good sign to me because I know she means a great deal to me as a friend, and I have a feeling we'll meet again someday in the future. And hopefully it will be at a performance so that both sides of her character can be experienced live!

Update: A Response From Steph

I was recently pointed to Stephanie's website again because there is a blog entry about this meeting in her "musings" section. She summarizes the experience in a few very nice words. Go to the site and scroll down to "august 1" to read the entry.

 
 
© 2005 Maximilian Schulz - Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and all other names, all pinball games and software mentioned on this site are trademarks of their respective owners.